HAWKINS, Texas — When you think Future Farmers of America (FFA), you probably think of young East Texans raising goats, pigs or steer and yes, that's a huge part of developing an FFA student's potential, but some students are also exploring Ag Mechanics.
It's another avenue for them to excel as leaders and maybe even in their future careers.
You know what's Totally East Texas? The Hawkins AG Mechanics team that just made history again.
The Houston Livestock Show and Rodeo is something these Hawkins FFA students and their teacher look forward to competing in every year.
"Especially in Ag Mechanics, it's a prestigious show, lots and lots of schools across the state compete," said Matt Byrd, Hawkins ISD Ag teacher.
But, those dreams were dashed last year.
"We were actually in the middle of getting ready to head down to Houston and that's when we got the phone call that they end up canceling the show in the middle of the show due to COVID," said Byrd.
Matt Byrd is the Ag Science and Ag Mechanics teacher at Hawkins ISD. He admits that the last year has been the most challenging in his 17 years in education with so many unknowns.
"We were really unsure if the if the shows were even going to happen and so we were anticipating whether we were going to be able to build projects and invest money and be able to go again," Byrd said.
Finally, some good news — the Houston Livestock Junior Show would happen! So, after Christmas, the Ag Mechanics students got to work. That means creating their own CAD drawings, a budget and putting in long hours of labor building their projects from the ground up.
"So, for our goat disbudding station, it's something that no one's ever seen. We hand did it ourselves, it's just straight from our imagination and we just wanted to do something that you're not gonna see done. We want something to stand out that the judges to go crazy about and that's what we had, our judges loved our project this year," said Hayden Smith, FFA student.
Their Hawkins FFA project was one of six Blue Ribbon winners. It also placed 4th in Livestock Show Equipment, but the skills students like, Hayden Smith, learn along the way may be the biggest prize.
"I learned how to weld and how to work under pressure and how to work, not only by myself, but work with my team," said Smith.
Brook Goddard helped start the 4G Honey Team, which started as a collaboration with their local Ozarka to solve a bee problem. That got a lot of buzz and turned into a honey making business as well as the inspiration for their Ag Mechanics project.
"So, this is the new extraction table that we created — starts at the top, we spin all of our honey out, goes down and we bottle it at the end of the table. It's more efficient. Before, we were using a fold out table," said Brook Goddard, FFA student.
They took 4th overall in Showmanship out of 450 entries! That award-winning table will also help their booming bee biz.
"This past year, we've actually sold six to $7,000 worth of honey. So, hopefully this year, we plan to double it and our sales," said Goddard.
"We give it right back to them in scholarships," said Byrd. "So, they're paying their way. They're kind of making their own pathway there and that just started with some basic Ag Mechanic skills."
But these students skills and dedication are anything, but basic. You can see that in their other Blue Ribbon projects including a hydraulic tilt bed trailer, a livestock crate, woodshop work table and these palletized migratory beehives. All of these projects and students contributed to Hawkins history making, Totally East Texas moment.
"I tell you, we won a big award down there, The Dr. Billy Harrell award," Byrd explained. The award of excellence is the most prestigious in Ag Mechanics in Texas. It's thought of as their state championship or Super Bowl in Ag Mechanics.
"That's what that award means and to be able to win that award it's based as a group, it's not an individual, but it's our students and for them to build and construct projects and did a great job of it... did a great job in their interviews," Byrd explained.
The Hawkins FFA students persevered through a pandemic, snow storm and pretty strenuous work schedules, all while balancing school and other events, creating a lasting legacy of excellence for future Ag students to follow.
"We still accomplished something that big... meant a lot," said Smith.
"Just all of the opportunities FFA has provided me has been my greatest success here," Goddard said.
They also won about $15,000 in equipment at the Houston Livestock Show, which will help them with future projects.
Hawkins is a smaller school in East Texas, but they've got more than 160 students in their FFA program, a lot of them in Ag mechanics, which continues to grow in popularity and some of their students plan to continue with it for a career.